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August 18, 2007Glenn Turner

Nine Times the Same Game

The Nines (YouTube) - Video games aren't the first thing that come to mind when I think of screenwriter (and occasional director) John August. Best known for his Tim Burton affiliation (August has penned Burton's last few films, including Big Fish and his Charlie and the Chocolate Factory adaptation), August isn't really known for dealing with technology all that much. But here we are: The Nines, whose film trailer features Ryan Reynolds as a video game designer seemingly trapped by his own (or someone else's!) devices, if the trailer is any indication.

The film's official site sheds a bit of light on the trailer, stating that Reynold's character inhabits three different roles throughout the film, which eventually congeal into a single narrative. The Nines promotion has also been taking a bit of the ARG route, as the fine folks at Unfiction have been unravelling.

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As for myself, while I'm not a huge fan of August's works, there's no doubt that he has talent and, given that this is the first feature-length project as a writer/director, I have high hopes for it. It has a lot of potential, I just hope the end result realizes it. The Nines comes out August 31st and a high-resolution version of the trailer can be found here.

Cronenberg and Rushdie Meet Mario

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David Cronenberg Interviews Salman Rushdie - Back in 1997, the sadly now-defunct Shift Magazine listened in on, and transcribed, a sit-down between acclaimed director David Cronenberg and controversial writer Salman Rushdie. And while weaving between topics of media journalism, celebrity, interactivity & the burgeoning internet, the two creatives briefly touched on the potential artistic merit of video games:

Cronenberg: Do you think there could ever be a computer game that could truly be art?
Rushdie: No.

There's a beautiful game called Myst. Have you seen that?
I haven't seen that.

They say this is democratic art, that is to say, the reader is equal to the creator. But this is really subverting what you want from art. You want to be taken over and you want to be-
Shown something.

Exactly. Why be limited by yourself? But they say, "No, it's a collaboration."
I like computer games. I haven't played many. At the Super Mario level I think they're great fun. They're like crosswords because once you've beaten the game, you've solved all its possibilities.

There's nothing left.
Whereas this is not true of any work of art. You can experience it over and over.
And if you come back to it in five years it's a different work, it's a different thing.
There's a different thing between a puzzle and a book. These are just very clever puzzles and they are very enjoyable and they require certain skills which are quite clever, useful to develop. Sometimes they make you use your mind in very interesting ways because it requires natural steps. You have to think in ways you wouldn't expect in order to find the solution. But it's just a game.

You would say, then, that a game designer could never be an artist?
Never say never. Somebody could turn up who would be a genius. But if one thinks about non-computer games, there are many which people say have the beauty of an art form. People say that about cricket, people say about every game.
But actually, they're not art. You can have great artists playing games. You can think about a great sports figure as being equivalent to an artist. I could see that there could be an artist of a games player, a kind of Michael Jordan of the Nintendo.

They have those competitions internationally.
In the end, a work of art is something which comes out of somebody's imagination and takes a final form. It's offered and is then completed by the reader or the viewer or whoever it may be. Anything else is not what I would recognize as a work of art.

(For the full interview check out the transcription at this Cronenberg fan site)

I first read this exchange in the collection of essays Gamers: Writers, Artists & Programmers on the Pleasures of Pixels and, in the book's introduction the editor notes that, Rushdie later on admitted that, while in hiding after publishing The Satanic Verses, "[m]y main pasttime was playing Nintendo games. I devoted so much time to mastering Super Mario [Bros.] that I must have been the world champion by the end of my seclusion." While I think Rushdie's perspective on video games is a bit limited, it's still interesting to hear their perspectives. I'd love to see the two meet again and suss out what they think of gaming now!

Final Words on Cronenberg

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Richard von Busack on eXistenZ - Cronenberg mentions in his Rushdie talk that he has "written a script for MGM about gaming and my own version of that", which was a first draft of eXistenZ (which I previously raved about here), but didn't actually come to fruition until the Rushdie interview. As detailed in Richard von Busack's inquisitive look at the film, after the interview Cronenberg was inspired to turn video game designer Allegra Geller into the subject of a Luddite fatwah, which turns into the crux of the film.

After deconstructing the film, Busack turns towards the filmmaker and has a litany of choice quotes from Cronenberg on both the film, and video games in general. Here's one of several fine nuggets from the article: "Certainly a lot of games look toward Hollywood [...] Unfortunately, it's only Hollywood they look to. There are some other film sources they could look to which would be more interesting. Cinema is really a mature art form, and so its revolutions are more subtle and deeper, more intellectual and cerebral."

Again, wouldn't it be great if Cronenberg directed a game?

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3 comments for ‘LinkUp: Celluloid Games’

#1 Servo Aug 18, 2007 11:13pm

I think that when you are going to talk about what is and what is not art, there can be no lines drawn. It is the height of subjectivity.

What gives anyone the right to tell someone what counts as art (let alone what can count as art) and what doesn't? The answer is that everyone is born with this right, because of the aforementioned subjectivity.

Also, I would love to see a LinkUp article about my favorite videogame-movie director, Uwe Boll.

#2 Glenn Turner Aug 20, 2007 08:37pm

You know, even though I'm a big fan of bad movies and have witnessed quite a few awful game-centric films, I have yet to actually see a Uwe Boll film.

Then again, plenty of other folks have, and have written about them, so I kind of doubt I can add anything new, but who knows! Maybe some day. But as far as links, I think Chris Kohler's latest escapades with the director are as much as you need to read (if you haven't already).

#3 WholeFnShow Aug 23, 2007 03:07am

"They're like crosswords because once you've beaten the game, you've solved all its possibilities."

This specific quote just struck a nerve with me as being so incredibly ignorant of games as far back as At Least the Playstation.

I can't count how many times I've gone back and played old games, only to discover something about the gameplay, characters, stages, or even music that I never did before. If I were to use his definition, and that fact, of course I'd be able to consider videogames as art.

But honestly, I believe art to be wholly relative, and for my intents and purposes, games are very much artistic. Aside from the obvious visual, and at times psychological, appeal, the fact that games can vary so much between masterpiece and utter flop shows how much can go into making a game, and how much can be left out.